In college dining halls, all is on display. An unintended consequence of these large, open semi-public spaces is that eating idiosyncrasies can be seen by everyone, often forcing individuals to eat in ways they wouldn’t otherwise — particularly when it came to eating alone.
Our surveys and interviews indicated that those who ate alone ate quicker, smaller meals, in many cases because they couldn’t find anyone to eat with and didn’t want to signal to others that they were alone.
Image source: fas.harvard.edu
We also found that people were actually very willing to take pictures of their food and share them with us:
We know that:
- Students crave variety
- Students prefer to eat with others, and tend to eat more well-rounded meals when they do
- Students — particularly first-year students — have limited means by which they can present themselves to others. Conversations in the dining halls usually include the same small-talk questions, such as “What are you studying?” and “Where are you from?”
- Students often get creative in the dining hall, using what they call “hacks”. This student food blog shows several examples, such as a “pizza” — a food not served in the dining hall that day — cobbled together from ingredients that were in the dining hall that day, such as bagels, pasta sauce, and cheese.
Given this, our solution takes advantages of students’ willingness to take pictures of their food to celebrate interesting eating habits and facilitate more meaningful social interactions between students.
Our app, Eatogether, is a facebook chat bot that allows students to submit photos of dining hall “hacks” that they have created.
The most creative ones will be displayed on a facebook page. The creators of these dishes will have the choice to lead a casual “cooking class” where they teach others how to make their creation. These classes would take place in the dining hall at little to no cost to the university.
The students leading the classes can present themselves as creative, fun, and relatable; the students attending may be students who did not have anyone to eat with that day in the dining hall (but now don’t have to admit this).